The annual Presidents Day Parade marches right by my home on the 300 block Queen Street, near North Royal Street, in the heart of Old Town. I invite you to come by our block and take a look, where a modern day revolutionary battle is raging.
On Feb. 25, the Alexandria City Council will decide whether to preserve a uniquely historic 200-year-old home on our block, or turn it over to a developer working for Fairfax homeowners, who want to destroy historic exterior walls and almost double the size of the original home to make it marketable for “millennials.”
Even if you don’t live in a historic district, Alexandria taxpayers, especially, should be concerned. This issue goes to our city’s credibility as a historic “Old Town” that draws tourists’ dollars.
Here’s the issue. The Old and Historic Alexandria District Board of Architectural Review (BAR) approved partial destruction of 319 Queen St., one of four near identical houses in a row that have been lived in for almost two centuries and have Historic Alexandria Foundation (HAF) plaques.
The BAR also approved a massive addition that will almost double the size original house, loom over neighboring Queen Street and North Royal homes, and create a “Greek Revival” facade on the rear. That addition will ruin the unique back story of these historic homes, which are visible from North Royal Street.
The impact on the historic setting on Royal Street is contrary to the city's historic preservation ordinance, and is grounds for the City Council to deem this project as inappropriate.
This project also undermines Alexandria's storied historic preservation that sustains the local economy. It is worth remembering that the Old and Historic District, designated in 1946, was the third historic district in the U.S., after Charleston and New Orleans.
Alexandria’s historians, like Charles Trozzo, of the historic foundation, and Michael Hobbs, of the Old Town Civic Association (OTCA) reminded the BAR that the standard should not be how much can possibly be demolished, but how much of our rich history and architecture can be saved.
Both civic groups have joined local residents in opposition to this project because it fails to meet that standard, among others.
It is now up to the City Council to preserve our city's heritage. Will it?
Council members have the authority and obligation to maintain Alexandria’s historic and architectural heritage and block destruction of the home, which is a Historic Landmark, and is in a National Register Historic District and a Local Zoning Historic District.
The case also raises a broader question: Are we going to allow Alexandria’s historic treasures to be torn apart, one house at a time, until there is no history left to preserve?
The BAR claimed it’s only responsibility was to rule on the architectural plans before it, not what could not be seen from the middle of the block. Perhaps that should have been expected from a BAR dominated by architects.
One of the most telling comments during the BAR hearings on this project came from BAR member and architect John von Senden. “Old Town,’’ von Senden said, “is not a museum district.’’ The Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association begs to differ, as it promotes Old Town on the city’s website as “a museum without walls.’’
For too long, this city has been scarred by battles between developers trying to squeeze every penny out of our limited land, and neighbors trying to preserve our history while limiting density.
Tell the City Council to overturn the BAR’s decision and preserve history.